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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The class of 2018 graduated with a record average of $29,200 in loans to help pay for a bachelor's degree, reports USA Today.

Why it matters: It was unusual to graduate with a high amount of debt a few decades ago, but "we have depressed ourselves into a mindset in which $30,000 in debt is acceptable for a degree," Mark Huelsman, an associate director at the left-leaning think tank Demos, told the newspaper.

The big picture: Some schools are trying to address affordability and debt concerns for the cost of an education, but students often use loan money to cover the cost of living expenses.

  • The University of Michigan and the University of Virginia introduced aid programs to help some students pay for classes.
  • New York offers free tuition at some public colleges for residents whose families earn up to $125,000.
  • New Mexico announced a free tuition plan this week for any state resident who attends a public school.

Yes, but: These plans, like many of the free college proposals floated by 2020 Democrats, are geared toward public institutions — meaning that those attending private universities across the country still have to shoulder the burden themselves.

  • Worth noting: The richest and most prestigious private universities often offer extensive financial aid packages of their own. For example, Harvard and Stanford both expect families that make up to $65,000 to contribute nothing — and Stanford offers no tuition charges for families making up to $125,000.

By the numbers:

  • Two out of three of last year's college grads owe more than 2017's.
  • Students who attended college in the Northeast have the highest average debt.
  • Students in Connecticut had the highest average at $38,650, and students in Utah had the lowest at $19,750.
  • "Black students and those from low-income backgrounds were more likely to have debt at graduation," per USA Today.

Go deeper: Debt-free college: Where the 2020 presidential candidates stand

Go deeper

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.